Veterans tackle mental health during referee camp

The National Rugby League is taking the time to give back to local communities along Flinders Highway with a group of referees taking part in a ‘Go West’ camp kicking off in Hughenden on Sunday, November 24. 

During the camp, the referee group will be visiting five different towns over seven days. Whilst at each town they will be participating in Community League Tag events, visiting culturally significant sites and giving education sessions.

Members of the referee group come from the Battlefields to Footy Fields program.

The program is an initiative of the NRL, in partnership with Veteran Sport Australia, that provides veterans with the opportunity to integrate into their local sporting communities through officiating.

The program kicked off in early 2019 and has had over 150 veterans register interest in being involved, with 34 veterans having already completed refereeing courses run by the NRL.

The opportunities for social connectedness and camaraderie that the program offers are hugely beneficial to veterans looking for purpose and mental wellbeing following their transition to civilian life.

There are approximately 640,000 veterans in Australia, with 5500-6000 servicemen and women transitioning out of the Australian Defence Force every year, 18 per cent of whom do so for medical reasons.

A study using data from 2015 estimated that 46 per cent of ADF members who had transitioned from full-time service within the past five years met 12-month diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder.

Sport has proven itself to be hugely successful in supporting those transitioning into civilian life to find new communities, utilise their skills, and help maintain their health and wellbeing into the future.

NRL North Queensland referee development officer Michael Inman said the camp was a great opportunity for everyone involved. 

"It hits three key pillars; performance development, local community engagement and mental wellbeing for our referees," Inman said. 

“The Battlefields to Footy Fields program is an ideal vehicle to have our former Defence Force personnel integrate back into the community with the League Tag community days, while receiving on the spot referee training from our referee educators.”

Veteran Sport Australia general manager Michael Hartung said "the impact of getting our veterans and their families involved in sport and recreation is powerful and transformative - not just for the veteran and their family, but also for the new community they find through sport". 

“The Battlefields to Footy Fields program offers great opportunities for our veterans to get involved in their local communities, and to find a new social network through the NRL," Hartung said. 

"It offers them the chance to apply skills from their time in service, and focus on both their physical and mental health.

"This is a great initiative of the NRL, and we are excited to grow this program with them.”

  • Referees from the Battlefields to Footy Fields program are heading off on the ‘Go West’ camp to develop their officiating skills in communities along the Flinders Highway in northern Queensland.
  • In partnership with Veteran Sport Australia, the NRL’s Battlefields to Footy Fields program helps veterans improve their mental health by supporting veterans to become accredited rugby league referees.
  • The ‘Go West’ camp allows the referees to engage with local communities and develop social connectedness.